- Khama Associated Company wrestle concession area from four Ngami villages
- Villagers had agreed to lease the land to their youth for youth empowerment-letters
- Khama’s associate-Dereck Joubert occupies area with a hospitality facility
- Masisi’s office say their hands are tied- OP document
- Aggrieved parties engage lawyers to sue Ministry
The former president, Ian Khama’s ties and firm grip on the tourism industry continues to impact on the industry to the detriment of local communities, who claim that the former president tramples upon any community enterprise that he may perceive as being a threat to his and his family’s beneficial interests in the tourism sector.
The Khama family is currently embroiled in a bitter feud with the development committees of four villages (VDCs), Seronga, Beetsha, Gunotsoga and Gudigwa in the Okavango Delta Panhandle. The feud has extended to include the tribal leadership who are angry with the Khamas after the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama frustrated their youth empowerment aspirations by denying them land. The initiative by community youth to develop a communally owned tourism outfit experienced its death knell when the highly desirable piece of land in which they had an interest was allocated to a company in which the Khamas’ have interests – Great Plains Conservation owned by National Geographic filmmaker, Dereck Joubert. The youth had wanted to operate a tourism enterprise within the NG23A concession in the Okavango area owned by Okavango Community Trust.
The Okavango youth, and founders of Nakwa Safaris argue that Great Plains Conservation was awarded the concession due to its connections with the Khamas, despite the fact that they had met all the requirements the Ministry had required them to meet.
Khama during his presidency presented Joubert and his wife with a Presidential Order of Meritorious for, “both their conservation work and the outstanding impact that their films and books and appearances have brought to Botswana”. Filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert own the Selinda Camp and Concessions which is also part of Wilderness Safaris Limited. The Memorandum of Association for the Company-Great Plains Conservation, investigations show, was done by lawyers Collins Newman and Company.
The Okavango youth through a company called Nakwa Safaris say at the time of applying for a licence they were thrown from pillar to post including being asked to enter into partnership with the area trust -Okavango Community Trust, which they did only for the Ministry to snub them and refuse to answer their application and queries for over 16 months.
In its response to the Nakwa’s appeal to the President under former president Ian Khama, the Office of the President, confirmed Nakwa’s assertion that they were advised to enter into partnership with the community trust, but that their hands are tied on the matter, “The position of the Ministry of Tourism is that they are yet to undertake an assessment and develop a management plan for the area in question to determine its optimal use. It is of the view that you should seek partnership with existing trusts. In view of the above we are of the view that it would be inappropriate for this office to interfere with the ongoing process of the Ministry,” reads the letter dated 20 June 2017 from the Office of the President.
According to correspondence obtained by this publication, the four villages supported Nakwa’s request and granted the youth owned company permission to utilize and carry on a tourist enterprise within NG23A concession in the Okavango – a lucrative tourism area. “As Seronga Village we have agreed to give Nakwa Safaris an opportunity to operate in NG23A concession for job creation and the community,” reads a letter from Seronga Village-stamped by the village development Committee and tribal administration.
Another letter of endorsement by Beetsha Village reads “this letter serves as a confirmation for an agreement to give Nakwa Safaris an opportunity to operate in NG23A concession for tourism industry.” The same letter further says the move is designed to offer the youth an opportunity to create jobs for themselves and the community.
The youth reveal that after the permission was granted by the villages, Tshekedi Khama frustrated their efforts and those of the community elders by arm-twisting some Okavango Community Trust members to hand the concession to one of the Khama family’s business associates- Joubert, to develop a hospitality facility.
The Chairman of Okavango Community Trust, Mr. Moyei said he was not willing to speak on the matter, “I am not comfortable to speak on that matter sir,” he said when asked to comment on allegations that government pressure had been exerted on members of the Trust to revoke their support for the youth.
Nakwa has escalated the dispute by instructing their lawyers to pursue the company’s interests. Kebonye Modisa Law Office have issued a 30 day notice to Tshekedi’s Tourism Ministry calling on him to make a decision on their application or face legal challenge that would compel him to do so.
In the demand letter addressed to the Ministry and copied to the leadership of the four village, the youth say that at a time of application for a license to utilize and carry on a tourist enterprise at NG23A concession they were the only ones who were considered, subject to providing the Ministry with the information it wanted, at a later stage, to guide the developments. They further argue that they were advised to approach existing community trust facilities for partnership.
“Thus, we confirm that over and above having submitted its application together with supporting documentation/ annexures, client has also for purposes of compliance and granting of a license submitted, inter alia, management plan and letters from the relevant community trust facilities, viz ; Seronga Village Development Committee approved by Seronga Tribal Leadership; Beetsha Village Development Committee approved Beetsha Tribal Leadership; Gunotsoga Village Development Committee approved by Gunotsoga Tribal Leadership; and Gudigwa Tribal Leadership,” reads the letter from the lawyers.
“Despite numerous telephonic follow ups and numerous physical attendances by client at your good offices enquiring about the outcome of its application, you have failed, neglected or deliberately refused for a period of more than 16 months to return to client with your final decision vis-à-vis its application. Client therefore prays that you return to it with your final decision regarding the outcome of its application. We therefore trust that we may rely upon your Ministry in summarily addressing and reverting to client regarding its application for a licence to operate a temporary Safari Mobile Camping Site at NG23A Concession,” warn the youth through their attorneys.
The lawyers in their letter to the Ministry say “client avers that the continued deprivation of a direct answer for over 16 months amounts to a refusal of its application, which refusal, given that client has fully complied with the necessary requirements, would be unlawful and irrational liable to be reviewed.”
The Botswana Gazette investigations have obtained information that the much sought-after concession area has been developed and is almost complete despite the ongoing conflicts.
Dereck Joubert did not respond to The Botswana Gazette inquiries sent to both his emails let alone follow ups.
Tshekedi said he will come back to this publication when contacted for comment. His phone later rang unanswered and was later switched off at the time of going to print.